Long Island City-based nonprofit partners with Google to offer digital skills training to former prisoners

The Fortune Society teaches digital skills for job readiness
Formerly incarcerated people will receive digital training and other job skills to help them reenter the workforce under a program launched by The Fortune Society and Google. (Photo courtesy of The Fortune Society)

Nearly 10,000 formerly incarcerated people will be provided with the computer skills they need to re-enter the workforce under a new partnership between Google and The Fortune Society.

As part of Second Chance Month, the Long Island City-based nonprofit is joining the Google with Growth Career Readiness for Reentry program, an initiative to provide free digital skills and job readiness training to formerly incarcerated individuals.

The program’s training will focus on how to apply for jobs online and create a resume, along with more advanced topics including entrepreneurship and business budgeting. Each year, 600,000 Americans transition out of incarceration and face barriers to reentering the workforce. The unemployment rate for returning citizens is five times the national average, and returning citizens who are Black experience an even higher rate due to systemic racism, according to the Fortune Society, which advocates on behalf of 9,000 justice-involved individuals in New York City each year.

“Justice involved individuals often have major deficits when it comes to digital literacy. The pandemic exposed these shortfalls in ways that were unimaginable before COVID,” said The Fortune Society Vice President of Programs Ronald F. Day, Ph.D. “The Fortune Society is honored to partner with Google to help our participants increase their digital literacy skills and capacity to secure and maintain sustainable employment with a livable wage.”

The increasingly digital nature of work presents another challenge to workforce reentry. Nearly 82 percent of middle-skill jobs in the United States require digital skills, making the employment process difficult for those who lost access to technology while in prison.

“Lack of access to digital skills and job coaching puts formerly incarcerated individuals at a severe disadvantage when trying to reenter the workforce and increase their economic potential,” said Malika Saada Saar, global head of human rights at YouTube, a subsidiary of Google. “We are thrilled to work alongside program partners who have demonstrated true expertise and leadership in supporting successful reentry through digital skills training to men and women, mothers and fathers, impacted by incarceration.”

Alongside other program partners, The Fortune Society collaborated with Google to identify the needs of returning individuals, resulting in five program learning paths: getting started with the basics, job search, job readiness, online safety and “next step” job readiness skills. The Fortune Society will integrate this curriculum into its existing job readiness programs and will provide job placement support to help place learners into paid apprenticeship programs and jobs.

The program’s content is a mix of video and project-based learning on Google’s Applied Digital Skills curriculum and partner-facilitated workshops to accommodate the wide range of the reentry population needs. The program is part of Google’s racial equity commitments and builds on the company’s ongoing investments in criminal justice reforms. Since 2015, Google has given more than $40 million to nonprofits advancing criminal justice reforms, and $60 million to organizations working to expand access to hands-on computer science learning.

“Thanks to Google, our participants will be equipped to compete in this highly competitive job market,” Day said. “When provided an opportunity our clients excel. This benefits our participants, their families and the entire community.”

Any nonprofit organization offering training to the reentry population can join the Grow with Google Partner Program and access resources, workshop materials and hands-on help, free of cost.

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